Holistic Admissions Policies Resulting in Applicants Trying to be ‘Less Asian’


According to former Ivy league admissions dean Sara Harberson, Asian-American students could be at a disadvantage when applying to highly competitive institutions.

Formerly an associate dean of admissions for the University of Pennsylvania and dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin and Marshall College, Harberson recently wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which she discussed the many reasons for the rejection of a college application.  In many cases, students who do not have a tag, or as Harberson refers to it, “the proverbial golden ticket,” connected to their application hit a roadblock.

According to Harberson, students with tags include “recruited athletes, children of alumni, children of donors or potential donors, or students who are connected to the well connected.”  She goes on to say that Asian students typically do not hold such tags, nor do they typically make use of any connections they may have, whether it be in the form of a politician, chief executive, or other leader speaking on behalf of an Asian American student, writes Peter Jacobs for Business Insider.

Harberson goes on to discuss the “holistic admissions” standards used by many elite colleges, which allows them to consider race when admitting students to the school as long as there are no strict quotas.  Sometimes considering race can work against students.

“For example, there’s an expectation that Asian Americans will be the highest test scorers and at the top of their class; anything less can become an easy reason for a denial,” Harberson writes. “In the end, holistic admissions can allow for a gray zone of bias at elite institutions, working against a group such as Asian Americans that excels in the black-and-white world of academic achievement.”

Gabrielle Karol for News10 reports that the increasing competition has resulted in many college admissions counselors beginning to coach Asian-American students to come off as “less Asian” in their applications.  The idea comes as a belief that Asian students are competing against themselves because elite colleges hold quotas on Asian students.

The discussion comes at a time when the use of race in college admissions is at a critical point.  A federal complaint was recently filed against Harvard University by a coalition of Asian-American advocacy groups, claiming that the school makes use of racial quotas.  Similar lawsuits were filed last year against Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina by the group Students for Fair Admission.

“Students for Fair Admission’s complaint highlights data and analysis that strongly suggests that white, African-American, and Hispanic applicants are given racial preferences over better qualified Asian Americans applying for admission to Harvard,” the group said in a press release.

Harvard remains insistent that the policies used by the university are within the law and that applicants are reviewed on an individual basis using a holistic approach.